Settlement Halts Rodeo-Hercules Fire Assessment

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KKBS partners Eric J. Benink and Vincent D. Slavens represented a property owner and resident of the City of Hercules, California against the Rodeo-Hercules Fire Protection District. At issue in the case was the constitutionality of a special assessment levied upon parcels to fund general fire department services.

A special assessment is a compulsory charge a government agency places on real property within a defined district to finance the expense of a public improvement or service. In 1996, California voters approved Proposition 218 (Cal. Const. art. XIII D) to prevent such agencies from imposing special taxes upon citizens disguised as assessments or fees.

Under Proposition 218, an assessment may be imposed only for “special benefits” conferred on property. “Special benefit” means a particular and distinct benefit over and above general benefits conferred on parcels within the district or to the public at large. “General Benefits” are benefits conferred upon the public at large, as well as derivative and indirect benefits to real property. The public agency bears the burden of proving that each parcel is being assessed only for the proportionate special benefit conferred by a public improvement or service.

On June 11, 2014 the District adopted a resolution levying a fire services assessment on all parcels within its boundaries. But the District failed to articulate any special benefits the proposed services would confer upon any assessed parcels. Instead, it sought to charge all parcel owners for general fire services in violation of Proposition 218.

KKBS’s client alleged that the assessment was unconstitutional because it assessed parcels within the District for services that only conveyed general benefits in violation of Proposition 218.

Following briefing and oral argument on the merits, the parties agreed to a settlement that requires the Rodeo-Hercules Fire District to, among other things, permanently cease all further levy and collection of the Assessment beyond fiscal year 2016/2017 and to terminate the assessment.

Attorneys Eric J. Benink and Vincent D. Slavens represent citizens and taxpayer groups who seek to challenge taxes disguised as government fees, charges and assessments. They can be reached at eric@kkbs-law.com or vslavens@kkbs-law.com or (619) 232-0331.